Carrie Underwood / CMT / Kelsea Ballerini / Lady Antebellum / Little Big Town / Loretta Lynn / Maren Morris / Miranda Lambert / On TV

CMT Honors the Women of Country Music at Historic “CMT Artists of the Year” Special

Photo Courtesy of CMT

In recognition of the undeniable influence and impact of female artists in country music, for the first-time ever, CMT dedicated its annual “CMT Artists of the Year” special to the women of country music—past, present and future. Last night’s honorees included Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott. The coveted “Artist of a Lifetime” award presented to icon Loretta Lynn.

Before being honored by rock songstress Elle King, Miranda Lambert’s country supergroup Pistol Annies (also featuring Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley) jumpstarted the evening with the spunky “Sugar Daddy.” Lambert thanked all the female artists that came before and encouraged more collaborations, adding “I’m thrilled to celebrate how hard we work tonight and how much we are a community, as women.”

Following a toast by fellow nominee Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Kelsea Ballerini was joined by Grammy award-winner Alison Krauss, uniting two generations of artists, for a haunting performance of Krauss’ “Ghosts In This House”. During her acceptance speech, Ballerini thanked CMT for being the one to “change the conversation” and urged female artists to share the stage with one another.

After an introduction by Grammy award-winner Sheryl Crow and the legendary Smokey Robinson, honoree Maren Morris and singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile honored the late queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, with a special rendition of her signature classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” During her speech, Morris championed the new generation of female artists, thanking them for making the most “compelling, emotional, badass music of our lifetime” and for inspiring her not to “water-down” her own art.

Honoree Hillary Scott was aptly toasted by her Lady Antebellum bandmates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood before being joined by singer/songwriter Tori Kelly and Grammy-winning gospel artist Kirk Franklin for a sweeping and inspirational medley of “American Honey,” “Never Alone,” and “Oh Happy Day.” Scott thanked all the “incredible women being honored tonight” and added that she was humbled and thankful for the recognition.

On the “CMT Artists of the Year” stage, stars Sara Evans and Danielle Bradbery announced that CMT will continue its history of supporting emerging female country artists by partnering with Ram Trucks for a year-long mentoring program for the genre’s rising stars. Powered by Ram Trucks, CMT will host 12 unsigned country artists in the CMT studio over the year – helping them record their demo and kickstart their dream. A female producer will oversee the first recording session and mentors from across the entertainment industry will advise the next generation of young artists.

Honoree Miranda Lambert celebrated the lasting legacy of country icon Loretta Lynn. Martina McBride crooned the classic “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” while Sheryl Crow and Dierks Bentley performed the beloved “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sissy Spacek, who won the Oscar for her portrayal of Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” accepted the prestigious “Artist of a Lifetime” award on her behalf, proclaiming her “a sister, best friend and cheerleader.” She noted there’s “only one Loretta” and joked that Lynn had offered to loan her one of her signature gowns to the event. She ended with a personal message from Lynn: “It’s about daggum time we recognized women.”

Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman were honored by bandmates Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook. Alongside the legendary Gladys Knight, the ladies performed a medley of hits featuring the Bonnie Raitt tear-jerker “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the Gladys Knight classic “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Schlapman said she grew up “singing in her hair brush” and from “there to here tonight is incredibly humbling.” Fairchild added, “I can’t say enough about CMT for honoring women” and “I hope I can live up to this honor.”

Keith Urban honored former duet partner and tour mate Carrie Underwood, who proclaimed to her fellow honorees that “you are not here because you are a woman, you are here because you are dang good.” She added “I want little girls to see us on stage and know this is possible.” She then joined forces with Runaway June and Maddie & Tae for a timeless performance celebrating the biggest female country artists and hits over the last 50 years including: Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” The Judds’ “Rockin’ With The Rhythm of the Rain,” Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” Faith Hill’s “Wild One,” Reba’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”. The medley closed with Underwood’s latest smash “Cry Pretty.”

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